A regular meditation practice doesn’t need to be reserved for yogis or zen-like gurus! In fact, many of the most successful people in the world attribute their sense of balance, calm and productivity to meditation. Those who resist the idea of meditation know they need it, yet doubt their ability to slow down. They fear failing, so they never try. However, there are simple tips to get started as a beginner. Meditation can be done anywhere, and you don’t need any special equipment or knowledge, just an earnest desire. If you have trouble quieting your mind, focusing on tasks, feel stressed, or simply want to feel happier, read on…
The Benefits of Meditation
Incredible benefits manifest from simply sitting with your eyes closed. We’re big believers here at the 131! There’s a little bit more to it than just closing your eyes (that’d be too similar to sleep); you’ll be awake and alert, but peaceful. However, the restorative benefits actually compare to a good night’s sleep.
Research around the benefits of meditation is pretty solid, so it’s becoming widely accepted in the mainstream world as a valuable tool for improving health and well-being. With roots back to ancient cultures and the support of modern science, consider it part of any total wellness plan.
Meditation can Change your Brain!
Isn’t that incredible? Meditation helps you create new connections and neurons[i] in the brain. Neurons are the tiny and amazing structures in your brain that send messages out to all the parts of the body. Meditation studies have observed changes in the areas of the brain that are responsible for sensory, cognitive and emotional processing[ii]. This means that meditation help improve memory, your ability to sustain focys, and your mood![iii]
It can Help you Feel Better
Meditation is well known as a method for reducing stress[iv] and anxiety[v] [vi] levels. You might find you sleep better at night, your blood pressure drops and you have better energy levels. If you were able to deal with stressful situations in a calmer way, and recover from them faster, what would that do for your total well-being? A lot, we suspect!
Let’s look at the many different types of meditation to see if one resonates with you. As you become more familiar with different techniques, you may end up creating your own mix that works well for you. Essentially, all types of meditation help you focus on being more fully present (and it’s been known to reduce inflammation).
Types of Meditation
There are many types of meditation practices; under each one are various branches, or sub-categories of meditation. There are overlaps in underlying principles, and different techniques used within one session.
Mindfulness meditation is a common form of meditation in which elements are used across different types. You simply sit up with a straight posture and your eyes closed and focus on the breath. That’s it! Your mind will likely wander to various thoughts. The idea here is not to be judgmental in any way, but simply bring the mind back to the breath when it does wander.
Mindfulness meditation can help you practice presence in everyday life, like really listening to your spouse or children. If you’re looking at an option for meditation for beginners, this is a great choice because it’s simple to get started. That doesn’t mean you’ll find it easy, but stick with it so it becomes a practice that becomes second nature.
“Zen” meditation can be seen as an extension of mindfulness meditation once you are ready to develop your practice.
Moving meditation is another simple way to get started in meditation. It has elements that overlap with the principles of mindfulness meditation. The focus here is again on remaining present and also on being mindful. In moving meditation, the physical body is in motion and the thoughts are centered on whatever activity you are partaking in. Of course, the mind may wander. As with mindfulness meditation, just gently bring the thoughts back to observing the movement again.
A simple act of going for a walk can be turned into a walking meditation. Just bring your attention to the connection of your feet on the ground, the breeze blowing on your face, things you can see and smell, and anything else you can feel. Yoga, tai chi and Qigong are all types of moving meditation. A good instructor will guide you and remind you to bring your attention back to the present moment.
If sitting still on your buttocks seems like too much of an “ask” for you, consider some form of moving meditation instead!
One of the wonderful things about meditation is that anyone can choose to take part, regardless of their belief system. There are different forms of meditation that focus on a heightened sense of spirituality. In various religions, certain forms of meditation may be practiced as a way of becoming closer to the divine.
In a non-religious context, spiritual meditation may be practiced with a desire to become more connected with one’s self, and the world around them. It can be used as a tool for spiritual growth, or simply to look inwards and reflect.
Body Scan Meditation
This can be done in a lying down position so you can completely relax and let go. It is often used as a basic technique for stress release or for assistance in falling asleep at night, making it a great option for beginners.
There are different ways to perform a body scan meditation. A simple way to get started is to lie down and close your eyes. Focus on one part of the body at a time. Tense that part of the body as hard as you can, and then relax and release fully. Start from the bottom of the body, working up gradually, and then finish by trying to tense every muscle in the body before releasing and relaxing completely.
Loving Kindness Meditation
Loving kindness meditation may be a good choice if you are experiencing anger, frustration or resentment as a result of one or more relationships in your life. It can help to resolve internal feelings of conflict and is one of the best meditation choices for cultivating happiness.
The idea behind loving kindness meditation is that you send out loving, kind thoughts. These thoughts can be directed at someone you know, or even people you don’t know. Your thoughts can also be sent out to people with whom you’ve been experiencing conflict.
Practicing this type opens you up to receiving loving kindness as well. Repeat loving, warm thoughts until feelings of calmness and abundance are achieved.
In mantra meditation, a single word or phrase is usually repeated over and over, either in the mind, or out loud. You might be aware of the word “om” as a common sound in mantra meditation. It is often used in yoga classes and is described as a universal sound.
Different types of meditation incorporate mantras, or chanting. In transcendental meditation, a mantra is repeated internally, to help you rise to a higher state of being. Kundalini yoga also uses mantras combined with physical movements and a focus on breathing.
There are other types of meditation, but these are some of the most popular and easiest to adopt as a newbie. Once you’ve decided on the type of meditation you want to try, check out these 10 simple tips on how to meditate.
10 Tips to Make it Easy to get Started with Meditation
You may be wondering how to meditate properly. How do you know if you’re doing it “right”? Maybe you’ve tried it before and didn’t feel like you were doing it correctly? Did you look around and see others completely zoned out and zen-like and then wonder why you couldn’t get your monkey mind to calm down? Or have you listened to someone else share their experiences about all the amazing things they felt and the visions they received and then wondered why you haven’t experienced the same thing?
It’s easy to feel like you don’t know how to meditate properly. But the reality is, there’s no such thing as doing it “properly.” There is no “right” way to do it and you can’t get it “wrong.” Over time focus increases and the mind becomes quieter.
1. Use a Guided Meditation App
Guided meditation apps help newbies get started. They assist you to quiet your mind because you’ve got something to listen to other than your own thoughts. Just like there are many types of meditation to choose from, there are also many different guided meditation apps. Try out one, and if it doesn’t resonate with you, then try something else.
Here are a few of the ones we’ve personally tried (and love) at the 131 Method:
- The Meditation Podcast[vii] by Jesse and Jean Stern. Most of these are around 25-30 minutes. Choose an episode based on what you want to work on. You’ll find episodes ranging from healing trauma to developing discipline and the power of kindness.
- Meditation Station[viii] by Stin Hansen is a great option if you’re a little short on time. There are many options between about five and 15 minutes. Like the meditation podcast, you can choose your episode based on your needs. Obsessive thinking meditation, “the zone” for emotional weight loss and family gathering emergency prevention are just a few of the areas in which help is available.
- It’s not a guided meditation app, but Deep Energy 2.0[ix] provides music for sleep, meditation and relaxation. You can pop in the background while practicing your chosen form of meditation to facilitate faster relaxation.
2. Start Small
You can start your meditation practice with as little as a few minutes of spare time. Don’t underestimate the power of just a few minutes to focus on your own personal health and well-being! Perhaps you’re a busy mom wondering how on earth you’re going to fit a meditation practice into your life? In that case, grab a few minutes first thing in the morning or last thing before you go to sleep. As you get into a routine you may find that you can gradually extend the time you meditate. If not, don’t worry. A few minutes are always better than no minutes!
3. Take a Course or Class
There are many meditation classes available. You could opt for a regular one-hour class in your local community, or take a more intensive course. Taking a class or course helps connect you with like-minded people, and you’ll have the instructor’s knowledge and experience to draw on. You can ask questions, share your experiences, and accelerate the learning process. Like the guided meditation apps, this is a good option if you have trouble getting started on your own.
4. Create a Relaxing Environment
What do you want your meditation space to look like? What would be relaxing for you? Do you prefer a cozy indoor space, or would you prefer to be outside in nature?
Of course you can meditate anywhere, but if you are going to create a habit around it (see point six) then sometimes it’s easier to have one or two set spaces for your practice. If you’re going to meditate in your bedroom, or a corner of your house, some of the things you might want to consider are:
- Low lights
- Cushions or a meditation chair
- Background calming instrumental music
- Essential oils
- Pets outside
There are no “rules” about what your meditation space should look like; it should just feel good for you. You may not even need to give your room any special treatment! Suggestions like this simply help to make it a little easier for you to get started.
If you have opted for spiritual meditation you may decide to go to a place of worship to meditate. For outdoor meditation, choose a spot that feels inspiring for you.
5. Tips to Focus on your Breathing
The breath is an important part of meditation because it plays a role in bringing the body into a state of relaxation. Here are a few ideas to try that may help you with your breathing:
- As you breathe in and out, feel the air moving in and out of your nostrils and bring all your attention there. Every time your mind wanders, gently bring it back to noticing the air flowing in and out.
- Counting your breaths may help to keep you focused on your breathing.
- Many people take shallow breaths into the top part of the chest, which is an inefficient way of breathing. Try placing your hands on your belly and taking deeper (but still natural) breaths. Feel the belly rise as you breathe in and feel it lower as you breathe out.
6. Turn it into a Habit
Once your meditation practice becomes a habit, it will be easy to stick to because it’ll be part of your daily or weekly routine. Some tips for turning your meditation practice into a habit:
- Decide on when you are going to do it. Where can it fit into your life most seamlessly, with the least amount of sacrifice? Remember that you can always build on your practice, but just start by making it easy for yourself! Will you do it first thing in the morning when you wake up? Last thing at night before you go to bed? During a break from work each day? Once a week on a Saturday morning?
- Schedule it in to your calendar or diary. Set yourself a reminder on your phone if you need to.
- Change anything that needs to happen to make your meditation practice a reality. Do you need to get ready for bed earlier so you can fit it in before you sleep? Do you need to set your alarm to wake up earlier in the morning? Perhaps you need to find someone to look after the kids on Saturday morning so you can go to a meditation class?
7. Choose one Thing to Focus on Each Day
As we’ve mentioned, you can learn to meditate anywhere, and can even incorporate it into activities of daily living such as walking, gardening or eating a meal. There is another way of practicing meditation without having to organize it into a “session.” Simply choose one sense to be aware of each day:
- Choose “sound” one day and notice all the sounds you hear from traffic to nature, people, and everything in between.
- When you choose “touch” notice how everything feels that day. How does your clothing feel against your skin? How about the water on your body as you take your morning shower?
- Repeat for “sight”, “taste” and “smell.”
8. Connect with other People who Meditate
We’ve also mentioned the possibility of joining a meditation class or course. This is a great way to connect with other people who meditate and to help make meditation a part of your lifestyle. Some classes also have discussion time afterwards, or a chance to connect socially. You could also consider joining Facebook groups or other online forums for people who meditate. Or, start with yoga, and see how that progresses to meditation and new friends.
9. Manage your Expectations
Don’t be hard on yourself if you miss a day. Just keep your practice at the forefront of your mind and get back onto it the next day. Remember you can always incorporate moving meditation into your day by doing something as simple as going for a walk. You can even practice mindfulness at the dinner table. Use all your senses to enjoy the meal fully. Observe the smell, taste and texture of the food.
10. Enjoy the Journey
Don’t be too tough on yourself! You’ll learn a lot about yourself on this journey. Approach your learning with curiosity and love, rather than judgement. Realize that you are growing as a person. Offer yourself loving kindness and gratitude for what you are doing to improve your health. And always remember to smile!